BEAVERTON — Heart.
The Tualatin High School football team put it all on the line. Even when the Timberwolves were down 35-7 late in the third quarter against a talented, physical Jesuit squad, they never stopped believing — and they never stopped battling.
And, because of that, they almost pulled off a come-from-behind victory for the ages. Tualatin, scoring three touchdowns in a game span of 3 minutes and 44 seconds, cutting the Crusader lead to 35-28 with 9:25 left to play in the Class 6A state playoff quarterfinal contest played Friday at Jesuit High School.
But the Wolves couldn't get any closer. Jesuit, answering with a 53-yard touchdown run by senior Ted Atkinson, and then coming up with an interception on defense, held on to get a 42-28 victory to advance to this week's state playoff semifinal round.
And, while the Crusaders were celebrating on one end of Cronin Field following Friday's quarterfinal thriller, on the other end of the field, the Timberwolves were sharing hugs, tears and slaps on the back.
"We didn't give up. That's not a part of our program," said Tualatin senior Luke Marion, who scored a pair of touchdowns during the Wolves' late rally. "Coach (Dan Lever) always preaches to play to the end of the game, and to play out hearts out, and I think we did that today."
"We knew from the start that it was going to be four quarters of tough football, and that's what we got," Tualatin senior running back Kainoa Sayre said. "We fought until that final whistle."
"It's just this team, man. This shows the heart that we have," Tualatin senior Blake Jackson said. "Everyone wants to win, no matter what. We went down 35-7, and everyone was still up. Everyone just wanted to win. I love these guys."
For the season, Tualatin finished in a tie for second place in the Three Rivers League with a 4-2 record, while going 9-3 on the season.
The Wolves also made their first appearance in the quarterfinal round of the Class 6A state playoffs since the 2010 season.
"It was a great season. We're a great team," Marion said. "We're one of the best teams out there, and it showed this game. We battled, but we just didn't end up on top."
"I'm just proud of everyone here," Jackson said. "A lot of guys stepped up, who I didn't know were going to get playing time this year. They stepped up. Everyone was making plays. It's a family, here at Tualatin. Everyone is brothers."
Jackson seemed to be one of the many players who provided the heart and soul to the Timberwolves this past season. He was a rarity, as a starting quarterback who also started at defense. For the season, Jackson completed 118 of 179 pass attempts for 1,692 yards, with 11 touchdowns and nine interceptions. Jackson also ran for 571 yards on 104 carries, with three touchdowns. On defense, Jackson earned first-team All-Three Rivers League accolades at outside linebacker.
Meanwhile, the 2019 Tualatin season certainly seemed to mean a lot to Sayre, who missed his entire junior season after suffering a broken ankle during the summer before the 2018 campaign.
"It meant everything," Sayre said of his senior season. "I enjoyed every last bit of it."
And there was plenty to enjoy. For the 2019 season, Sayre ran for 1,283 yards on 163 carries, while scoring 30 rushing touchdowns.
Senior tight end/linebacker John Miller led the Wolves in receiving for the season, with 34 receptions for 695 yards and seven touchdowns. Miller was also named the Three Rivers League Defensive Player of the Year for the second straight season.
There were many other key players for the Wolves this past season, including senior linemen Brett Gydesen, Cody Van Meter and Sonny Edward, senior defensive end Jake Reser, senior linebacker Josh Boespflug, senior receiver/defensive back Cade McCarty and multi-talented Marion, just to name a few.
Marion kick-started Tualatin's furious rally Friday at Jesuit, returning a kickoff 94 yards for a touchdown, trimming the Jesuit lead to 35-14 with 1 minute and 7 seconds left to play in the third quarter.
Tualatin sophomore kicker Dominic Borges then put down a perfect onside kick, with Reser pouncing on the ball. That led to a 20-yard touchdown run by Marion, making the score 35-21 with 11:32 remaining in the game.
Then, the Timberwolf defense stepped up to force Jesuit into a three-and-out. Tualatin sophomore Malik Ross returned the ensuing Crusader punt 58 yards for a touchdown — tip-toeing the right sideline and slipping out of tackle attempts on his way to the end zone — cutting the margin to 35-28 with 9:25 left to play.
But Jesuit, with the touchdown run and interception, was able to fight off the Tualatin rally and hold on to win.
"Just not letting our heads get down. That was a big thing for us, and part of our comeback," Sayre said.
"We just kept battling," Marion said.
The state playoff quarterfinal loss marked the final game for Tualatin seniors McCarty, Malcolm Tatum, Brett Beyer, Drew Delozier, Joel Erwen, Marion, Reser, Brock Gydesen, Ethan Hutchinson, Jackson, Miller, Sayre, Boespflug, Herminio Velasquez, Randy Hall, Isaiah Alvarez, Dawson Comstock, Tyler Dickson, Van Meter, Brett Gydesen, Edward, Nolan Fragio and Davis Friesen.
"We had 27 seniors, and I bet everyone is crying right now," Jackson said. "That's just the brotherhood we have. I just wish we had another chance, but it is what it is. That's football."
"We're devastated. We wanted to keep playing with out brothers," Marion said. "We're just sad to leave."
Despite losing the talented, hard-working group of seniors, Tualatin still looks to have a bright future.
"This was a huge step going forward for the future at Tualatin High School," Sayre said. "There's nothing but big things for coach Lever, and the future that he's creating."
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